Health Center Reaches Out and Reads

Mar 11, 2021 | Updates

Dr. Ellis reading to an infant with parents

The Rockbridge Area Health Center has received a $1,500 contribution from the Lexington Sunrise Rotary Club to help initiate the Reach Out and Read (ROR) program used by the health center’s pediatric medical providers.

The program, which started at RAHC last month, is a national program that is a simple, evidence-based interaction that takes place between medical providers and families with young children to encourage positive parent/ children engagements that support early brain development through a focus of sharing books.

As an ROR site, RAHC’s pediatric providers have been trained to deliver early literacy guidance to parents/ caregivers of children from 6 months through 5 years of age during each well-child visit. This age-appropriate guidance centers on the importance of: frequent and early exposure to language; looking at board books and naming pictures with infants; rhyme and repetition for gaining phonemic awareness during toddlerhood; and reading interactively at all ages.

“With ROR, we are giving more than just a book. We are giving moments and opportunities to increase family time, bonding and increase the amount of words heard at home,” said Jennifer Craft, RAHC ROR coordinator. “These things are a big part of healthy, emotional, and cognitive development in childhood.”

During each well-child visit, RAHC’s pediatricians enter the exam room with a new, developmentally appropriate book they give to each 6-month-old to 5-year-old child at the start of their visit, taking the opportunity to discuss with caregivers the importance of reading aloud every day, as well as modeling it in the exam room. Taking home the books, beginning at 6 months of age, enables each child to begin building a collection of 8-10 new books before entering kindergarten.

Pediatricians know that what happens during the first few years of a child’s life sets the stage for the rest of their lives. Spending time together while reading aloud helps to create strong parent-child bonds and promotes healthy brain development, said Craft. Children who are read to more often have improved language skills, experience stronger emotional connections to their loved ones, and gain a lifelong love of reading.

“More than 80 percent of a child’s brain is formed during the first three years, and what they experience during this window of time can irreversibly effect how their brains develop,” said Dr. Monty Kennedy, RAHC pediatrician.

The ROR program’s effectiveness is consistently supported by independent, peer-reviewed research, said Craft. Studies show that the ROR model also has a significant effect of parental behavior and attitudes toward reading aloud, and that children who participate in the program demonstrate higher language scores. The program’s impact has been documented in ethnically and economically diverse families throughout the country and is officially endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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